Universal credit indirectly discriminates against women by targeting single parents, legal case to claim

Benefits adviser says she was forced into debt by need to pay childcare costs upfront

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Saturday 07 March 2020 17:49 GMT

A working mother has been given permission to fight a landmark legal battle over universal credit in court.

Nichola Salvato argues that the childcare provisions of the government’s flagship welfare benefit indirectly discriminate against women because they disproportionately affect single parents, most of whom are women.

She says the provision forced her into reducing her working hours and going into debt totalling £2,000, and has won permission to bring a judicial review case at the High Court.

Nichola, 48, from Brighton, worked part-time when her daughter was young, but found full-time work as an advisor at a housing association after she reached 10 years of age.

The job meant her daughter Sofia, now 11, needed childcare before and after school as well as during the holidays.

But under universal credit, she was required to pay the costs of childcare upfront and then claim them back from the Department of Work and Pensions.

As she did not have the funds to cover the upfront payments, she resorted to a payday lender and was left struggling with high-interest debt.

Eventually, she cut her working hours in order to reduce the cost of childcare.

After the High Court granted permission for the judicial review to go ahead, Ms Salvato said: “I am so relieved that the court has allowed me to take my case further so that the DWP will have to face up to its illogical system which forces working parents, especially single mothers, into financially precarious situations, and even forces them out of work altogether.

“All I wanted to do was to work and provide for my child. I was initially very glad that universal credit promised to help me become as independent as it was possible to be in my situation as a single mother. But the requirement to pay childcare costs upfront, then claim them back from the DWP, made a nonsense of the whole notion that universal credit would make work pay. Universal credit is meant to help people to work and provide for their family, not push them into debt.”

Lawyer Carolin Ott, from law firm Leigh Day, who is representing Ms Salvato, said: “We are very pleased that the court has granted our client permission for a judicial review of the DWP systems which forced her out of full-time work and into debt, the very opposite of what the government said universal credit was intended to achieve for people, especially women, who want to go out to work and provide for their families.”

The legal challenge has been supported by Save the Children, whose head of UK poverty campaigns Becca Lyon said: “This case offers a glimmer of hope to families who have been pushed into debt and hardship by upfront childcare costs.

“It just isn’t right that working parents are being forced to take out loans or turn down better-paid jobs because they can’t find the money for childcare. As a country we should be doing all we can to make sure parents can go back to work, not setting them up to struggle by leaving them thousands of pounds in debt before they’ve even started a new job.”

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